To continue our series we’ll look at Preston Brown, the 4th-year veteran Bills middle linebacker who is expected to become a free agent for the first time in his career. Should the Bills keep him or should they let him go?
Brown has been a key piece to the Bills’ defense since he was drafted in the 3rd round of the 2014 draft. He’s viewed by most as merely an old school thumper MLB, but this assessment is completely wrong, in this writer’s opinion. Brown was a 3-down LB since his rookie season and the QB of the Bills’ defense under different coordinators and schemes. He has good quickness for his size, which allows him to not be an obvious liability in coverage. Pro Football Focus had him with a 70.4 rating in coverage snaps, a respectable grade for a guy who is supposed to be too slow to play on 3rd downs. As far as tackling, you can’t do much better than his league-leading 144, and a 23.0 PFF tackle efficiency rating, good for 4th in the league among inside linebackers. He’s also the definition of reliability, playing every meaningful defensive snap of this season. Brown played his best football when it mattered most, earning a 86.5 PFF overall grade against the Jaguars in the AFC wild card round, the 3rd best performance by an inside linebacker in this year’s playoffs so far. At 25 years old, his best playing days are still in front of him.
On the other hand, maybe Brown isn’t really what McDermott want as the prototypical LB for his defense. He’s a big guy who lacks ideal speed at the position for the modern NFL game. Opposing offensive coordinators consistently tried to exploit Brown putting him in space against quick backs and slot receivers. Brown also isn’t the most aggressive linebacker at the line of scrimmage, showed by his low 7.1 PFF run stop percentage and poor 50.1 PFF pass rush grade. He’s very reliable, but he lacks elite playmaking skills at the position, rarely forcing or recovering fumbles, sacking opposing QBs, or making interceptions. The Bills surely can get an upgrade at his position, but it will cost a good amount of money in free agency or a high draft pick.
The Bills will have to make a decision about their productive but somewhat limited middle linebacker. The smart thing to do is let him test the market and then decide if they can bring him back at the right price. Brown looks like a guy who won over the coaching staff with his leadership, work ethic, and communication skills. He surely showed he can produce in this scheme and can still get better going forward. If the Bills can bring him back on a team-friendly deal, then I think they will, instead of opening up yet another hole on their roster. Brown is underrated by the Bills’ fan base, but I’m certain he’s appreciated by his coaches.
Here are all of the Youtube breakdowns and All-22 footage I have on LB Preston Brown.
— Cover 1 (@Cover1) March 16, 2018